Report: FDA Covertly Imported Execution Drug
(01/13/2011)

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. — Newly released documents show the Food and Drug Administration covertly imported a certain type of anesthetic to help California and Arizona continue executing inmates.

The shortage of sodium thiopental, which is administered to put inmates to sleep before executing them, has halted executions around the country. Records show the shortage prompted the FDA to import the drug from a British manufacturer.

Records also show Arkansas and Tennessee imported the drug from England but did not indicate whether the FDA was involved in those purchases.

The drug has been in short supply since last spring. Hospira Inc., the only American manufacturer, says its remaining supplies will run out this year.

Arizona asked the FDA for help obtaining the drug in order to execute Jeffrey Landrigan for the 1989 murder of a Phoenix man.

Because it would be used to execute prisoners, FDA officials asked the British drug maker to expedite the manufacture of sodium thiopental for Arizona. The drug is marketed for use by the general population.

Arizona then gave California 12 grams of the drug in September. In December, California paid $36,415 for 521 grams from England..

A federal lawsuit in Arizona is challenging the use of overseas drugs, arguing they may be substandard and could lead to botched executions.

The FDA is required by law to assure the safety and effectiveness of drugs imported for medical use. Despite helping states obtain the anesthetic, the FDA has maintained that a 1985 Supreme Court ruling prohibits it from dealing with drugs used in executions.

Most state prison systems use sodium thiopental to put inmates to sleep before administering pancuronium bromide to paralyze them and potassium chloride to stop their hearts.

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